1722 – 1791
1741 – 1816
Relationship to Fawn: 6th great grandparents
Many non-Gaelic personal names made their way even into Gaelic-speaking families, one of those being Walter. Watson, Wat, Watt, Watts MacWattie, Macouat and MacWatson are all derived from Walter, a fact I was surprised by when I discovered it while looking at this Watt line some months back. Our Watt family line comes out of the Carbeth branch of Clan Buchanan in Stirlingshire and western Perthshire.
Where they settled – The Fourth Creek area in North Carolina – has come up several times in these essays. The Millegans, Sloans, Mordahs, and Wassons were all Fourth Creek families related to us and introduced in other essays. There may well be others I have not yet researched. Their names intersect frequently in church records and legal documents. As such the Fourth Creek area is one of the cradles of our modern family.
There seemed to be some inconsistency as to spelling regarding this family name. Some spelled it “Watt,” others “Watts.” Some researchers use “Watt” and others “Watts” for the same family members. It’s possible that William himself spelled it differently at different stages of his life. However, William spelled it “Watts” when he signed his will, and his tombstone reads “Watts.” The indexes I have seen for births in Scotland all spell it “Watt.” So, here I spell it “Watts” for William, both forms for his descendants based on the overriding preference of other researchers, and “Watt” for his father and grandfather.
The information I am using in this essay is derived from material of Watt family researchers basing their work on:
1. Descendants of Watts by Van Buren, D.; compiler. This is an unpublished genealogy of the Watt family of Iredell Co., NC.
2. Heritage of Iredell County, by the Genealogical Society of Iredell County (North Carolina) c 1980, c2000, p. 537, Items 664-665
In addition, I draw from the article “Barcelonia” Neckerchiefs, Teaware, and China Plates: Kinship, Status and the Division of Fourth Creek Church,” by Joshua Lee McKaughan (Journal of Backcountry Studies ), noting where I am employing this article.
The Watts family arrived in the American Colonies at York, Virginia in 1716. Williams Watts’ father and mother, Alexander Watt and Janet Mitchell, and William’s grandfather, also Alexander Watt, were the immigrant ancestors. I do not know if the elder Alexander’s wife, Elizabeth Sword, accompanied him or if she died prior to their emigration. I do not know where in Scotland they were living before emigrating, and some researchers believe they first went to Ireland briefly. William’s father was born in Duddingston, Midlothian, Scotland. However, the family was from Stirlingshire, and, as mentioned earlier, go back many generations in that area where prior to the 17th century the family had the surname Buchanan, being descended from the Buchanans of Carbeth. Elizabeth Sword was a Galbraith on her mother’s side.
Putting Down Roots in Fourth Creek
A land warrant in Anson County was issued by Lord Granville’s agents on 18 February 1750 to survey for William Watts 640 acres of land on the south branch of Fourth Creek joining John McColloh’s survey and crossing Sherrill’s Path. This makes William Watts one of the early settlers near Statesville. The location of this survey and later a grant from Lord Granville was at the intersection of present Highway I-40 and North Carolina Highway 115.
William Watts arrived from either Donegal or Derry Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania probably in late 1749 with the family of his first wife, Jean Allison. We are descended from his second wife, Jane Reid. It appears William Watts chose to settle on Sherrill’s Path, the only route of travel at that time in the present Iredell County near Statesville. This decision worked out well for William. By 1778 he was one of the more prosperous farmers still associated with the original Fourth Creek Presbyterian church. William Watts’ land holdings of Lord Granville and subsequent state grants resulted in his ownership of 800 acres, the southern boundary being the present Hartness Road and Race Street in Statesville. The Rowan County 1778 Tax list shows him owning an estate valued at £3,535. His home is shown on the William Sharpe Map.
In addition, his proximity to the road opened opportunities for the Watts family to play roles beyond farming. Several snippets of information on record about William Watts provide insights into his life:
- On 24 March 1754, William Watts had his brand recorded for his livestock. Over time, he served as tax collector, overseer of roads, and numerous times was on jury duty in Rowan County. An “overseer of roads” was responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads within his assigned district. Although the position of road overseer contained less stature than that held by road jurymen, who determined placement of roads, it provided the individual with increased respect among his neighbors.
- William Watts became the third Constable in Captain Allison’s District after Rowan County was formed in 1753. He was appointed on 17 April 1755.
- This area was frontier territory at the time. Fort Dobbs was built in 1756 to protect the settlers. The fort was near Sherrill’s Path and William Watts lived nearer to the fort than any other settler. Some researchers conjecture that he probably furnished oxen and helped construct Fort Dobbs.
- The Rowan Court Minutes show William Watt (spelling used in the minutes) had two horses stolen by the Cherokee during an attack on Fort Dobbs in February of 1760.
William Watts had a family of five children by Jean, his first wife. Jean’s brother Thomas, was the first constable in the area. It was probably William’s relationship by marriage to the Allisons that allowed him to become a constable as the population and areas of settlement expanded and more constables were required.
His eldest son by his first wife, William Watt, Jr., born about 1755, was known as “William Watt, the distiller.” He operated a mill and still on Third Creek.
James Watt, the second son, was a Revolutionary War soldier serving in the Rowan County Regiment from 1776 – 1781. His military record is in “The Catawba Frontier” by Mary Elinor Lazenby. He enlisted in 1776 as a Private under Capt. James Purviance and Col. Francis Locke. In 1780 he appears as a Private under Capt. David Caldwell and Col. Francis Locke, then in 1781, a Private under Capt. James Caldwell Crawford and Col. Francis Locke.
He is listed as having taken part in the 1776 Cherokee Expedition. The campaign was intended to suppress Cherokee support for the British, but there was little actual fighting since the Cherokee elders and majority of the nation favored peaceful coexistence with the Colonials. British support was limited to rogue Cherokee factions that conducted periodic raids. The Rowan County Regiment also served at the Battle of Moore’s Creek in 1776.
Distilling was popular in the area. William’s daughter, and second eldest child, by his first wife, Margaret, born about 1756, married John McLelland, also a distiller.
William’s wife died on 14 October, 1763. He ended up marrying Jane Reid, from whom we are descended. No marriage certificate seems to have been found, but their first child, John, was born about 1765. In fact, her last name is only known from the use of it as a middle name for their daughters. Eleanor Reid Watt, from whom we are descended, was born in 1768.
One of their daughters leads to an interesting connection with a part of our Murdock family. Mary Reid Watt, born in 1770, married William Steele, a Revolutionary War soldier. Their daughter, Eleanor, married Thomas Murdock and their daughter, Mary, married John Murdock. Just a small aside. Perhaps it’s a story for another time.
Their youngest child, Thomas Watt, born in 1775 married Margaret Lock, and they lived with his mother, Jane Watt, on the old home place near the intersection of the Chipley Ford Road and North Carolina Highway 115 until his death in 1811 at only 36 years of age. Margaret and their five children continued to live with Jane.
William Watts’ brother, James, joined his brother in North Carolina in the late 1750s, and, along with the Morrison families, was among the first settlers on Third Creek in the present Statesville-Loray area.
James was granted 696 acres of land on Third Creek by Lord Granville on 21 December 1761. It is believed he had lived on this land several years before the grant. The grant is made to James Watt and James Watt’s signature on the grant is without the ‘s’ on the Watt name. James Watt’s name is in the Rowan County Court Minutes twenty-one times as constable, overseer of roads, tax collector and jury duty and always without the ‘s,’ though his son, William, went by Watts and James’ tombstone reads “Watts,” which could have been a decision made by his son.
In the Journal of Backcountry Studies article, “Barcelonia” Neckerchiefs, Teaware, and China Plates: Kinship, Status and the Division of Fourth Creek Church,” Joshua Lee McKaughan identifies James’ son, William, as one of three fullers in the area in the late 1770s:
“All three men [William Watt, Joseph Steel, George Erwin] undoubtedly realized a modicum of prosperity as they process the wool cloth produced by weavers such as William Waddel and David Hill who dwelt to their east.
“A mutual dependency existed between these tradesmen and their neighbors. Just as Waddel and Hill depended on Steel, Watt and Erwin to process the cloth they produced at their looms, they in turn relied upon the husbandmen in their midst for the wool they turned into fabric. Like their coreligionists at Fourth Creek church to the east, the majority of the settlers living near the headwaters of Third Creek were farmers.”
Jane’s Story – Women on the Frontier
There was a 19 year age difference between William and Jane. When they married he was 43 and she was only 24, and she inherited a full family by marrying him. I’ve not collected much information about Jane Reid’s parentage. However, a Reed clan was significant in the area. Every reference to Jane I have seen spells her name “Reid,” while every reference I have seen to the larger family spells the name “Reed.” There were Ulster Scots Reids who settled in Lincoln County, but no indication that Jane came from Lincoln County. The assumption is that she was part of the Fourth Creek Reed family.
My information on the Reed family is based on McKaughan’s Journal of Backcountry Studies article.
The Reeds, another Ulster Scots clan, originated “along the border between the Pennsylvania counties of Chester and Lancaster.” By “mid-1753 members of the Reed family had established themselves in the region between the Catawba and the South Yadkin.” By 1778, the brothers John Reed, George Reed, and Andrew Reed were “among the ten wealthiest men in the area north of the South Yadkin between Snow and Rocky Creeks.” The most prosperous of them, Andrew, had an estate valued at £2392.55 in the 1778 Rowan County Tax Rolls.
Andrew was a silversmith, and “in mid-January 1763 opened a grist mill at his home on Fifth Creek. . . . On 9 January 1765 . . . Rowan’s justices appointed him overseer for the roads in the area between Fourth Creek and the South Yadkin.”
In 1775, the original Fourth Creek church split, resulting in the new churches of Bethany and Concord. Over time, road improvements benefited the areas of the new church, and only Sherrill’s Path connected these new congregations with the original Fourth Creek settlement. The impact of the split is a subject for an essay unto itself. The reader should refer to McKaughan’s article for more on this split and its impact on the families in the area. The importance of the split for this essay is that William Watt remained attached to the original congregation, but the Reeds were part of the Bethany congregation.
Education was a strong value among Ulster Scots, with some estimates of literacy among the Ulster Scots in 18th century America bing as high as 80%. How one educated one’s children was related to how prosperous the family was.
“Sometime in 1774 James Hall, Jr. newly returned from the College of New Jersey at Princeton, opened a classical academy between the South Yadkin and Snow Creek. Taking the name of Clio’s Nursery of Arts and Sciences, (http://ncpedia.org/clios-nursery) the school offered its pupils ‘the study of Greek, Latin, and English Belle Letters, Geography, Algebra, Practical Surveying, and the principles of Navigation.’ . . . Largely supported by the Sharpe, Hall, King and Reed families of Bethany, Clio’s Nursery also drew upon their coreligionists to the west at Concord meeting house.” The site of the academy is at the current NC 115 at SR 1905 (Bailey Farm Road) north of Statesville.
The network of roads brought increased prosperity to the Bethany and Concord settlements, and the possibilities for creating much more diversity in occupations than in the original Fourth Creek settlement, the members of which remained mostly farmers with much less development of other trades. Fourth Creek congregation families tended to educate their children at home. However, the more prosperous Fourth Creek congregation members, like William Watts, could participate in Clio’s Nursery of Arts and Sciences.
Creating Jane’s story has the same challenges faced with putting together the story of any average colonial era woman. Family relationships in colonial America followed the medieval English pattern: women lost their legal identity when they got married, after which they were considered as part of their husbands who represented them in social and legal matters. Her property and any money she earned belonged to her husband. If a woman were not of an aristocratic or wealthy background her name might show up in records only in relationship to her husband.
However, on the frontier, survival required a more cooperative relationship between husband and wife, though the husband remained the head of the household. In practice, some women ended up as property owners. When her husband died, “she would be given one-third of his property, and the rest would pass to a male heir. A man could make different arrangements in his will, though, and sometimes husbands left their entire property or businesses to their wives. Because of this practice, there were many businesses, such as taverns or artisan shops, that were owned and run by women.”
The war also created opportunities for women. “Patriot women supported economic boycotts of English goods, made bandages, nursed the wounded, made and wore homespun, faced personal danger, and maintained farm operations in a time of inflation and shortages.” (Women in the Revolutionary Era and Early Statehood)
It’s generally believed that Jane Reid was herself educated and taught at Clio’s as well as tutored children in their homes. William and Jane may have originally met through Clio’s. She may have even tutored his children.
Is “Reid” an error that become repeated, or did Jane change the spelling herself? Or, perhaps the extended Reed family used several different spellings. She was buried as a Watts, so her tombstone is of no help.
Some researchers believe she had a falling out with her family. If so, it is not clear what the falling out was about. A possible source of a break with her family could have been slavery. The Reeds entered the ranks of slaveowners. William Watts himself had four slaves by 1763. However, on the 1778 Tax Rolls no slaves at all appear for the William Watts holdings.
One event in the area involving Jane provides an example of the role of women in the Revolutionary War. The Bethany and Fourth Creek churches record that several discussions occurred in spring and summer 1775 over boycotting British products. Jane Reid, Agness Mordah, and Agness Wasson are referenced as leaders of the discussion, particularly ceasing the use of tea, substituting roots and leaves from their gardens and the woods. If this movement started in spring 1775 it would have been on the heels of “the Edenton Tea Party of October 1774, when “the leading women of that Eastern North Carolina [town] did not actually dump tea in a nearby sound but did stage one of the nation’s earliest acts of political theater by women. . . .”
“After the Edenton protest in late 1774, the South Carolina Gazette – a Charleston paper that covered news across the eastern Carolinas – encouraged such political protests to take place in the Cape Fear region.
“Months after the more-famous Edenton event, sometime between March 25 and April 5, 1775, the women of Wilmington actually burned their tea to protest imposing trade legislation and increased taxation.
“Wilmington women had publicly opposed British trade policies and swore to never buy tea again until such policies were remanded. Their actions showed that, in the spring of 1775, many Wilmington residents, like the counterparts in the other American colonies, opposed increased British taxation and trade restrictions.”
(North Carolina History Project – When Wilmington Threw A Tea Party: Women and Political Awareness in Revolution-Era North Carolina)
These kind of women-led protests swept inland and perhaps influenced the actions of Fourth Creek women, including Jane Reid.
Whether or not Jane Reid broke with her family over over slavery, over some other issue, or not at all, what seems to be true about her is that she was educated, outspoken, a teacher, and politically active in the Revolutionary War. Another Watt family bible entry referring to William’s wife, Jane, as “clever, headstrong, and willful” sounds like qualities that would go with a woman of such energy and purpose for that era.